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Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Flexible Spending PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 22 February 2015 00:00

Two years ago, I decided to try out an NFBC Draft Champions league. I've been hooked ever since. For those of you who are not familiar with the format, Draft Champions is a 15-team mixed league slow draft where every owner drafts a squad of 50 players (23 starters plus 27 bench players), the caveat being that in addition to no trading, which is a standard NFBC rule, pickups are not allowed. So, the 50 players you draft are the 50 players you will have at your disposal through the entire season. Injuries to key players can be crippling in these leagues, so building depth at every position is a must. And that's easier said than done, being that the available player pool during the latter stages of the draft becomes frightening. But even more important than the strategy element, the fact that these are slow drafts in addition to being ultra-deep drafts allows you to do ample research in between picks, becoming so familiar with the player pool that you will be well prepared for all of your other drafts, even if it's a deep non-mixed league.

As I write this, we are midway through the 10th round in Draft Champions, and just like the Mixed LABR draft that I discussed last week, a theme has already emerged. I've never been in a draft where starting pitchers have gone off the board as quickly as in this one. Personally, I like to wait on starting pitching, opting instead to load up on bats early and fill the majority of my staff with lower cost starters that I consider to be undervalued. Well, in this particular draft, my usually effective plan has blown up in my face. My carefully chosen group of "undervalued" starting pitchers aren't being undervalued, so forget about cheap aces (I had to draft Cole Hamels at 4.05, because there was no way he was making it back to me at 5.11). And we can even forget about many of the SP2-SP3 types.

On that note, since LABR is also a 15-teamer, I figured that comparing my NFBC draft to Mixed LABR could be telling. Here's a look at a handful of starting pitchers who were taken significantly earlier in the NFBC draft than in Mixed LABR. In parenthesis, you will see the LABR draft position followed by the NFBC draft position.

Yordano Ventura (13.05, 8.15) -What's not to like about Ventura following an outstanding first full season in the big leagues? The only thing to complain about is the walk rate (3.4 BB/9), but at 23 years of age, Ventura has plenty of time to work out those issues. Still, 120th overall seems a bit high. I'd be thrilled with Ventura as my SP3, but there's no way I'm drafting three starting pitchers with my first eight picks, so if that's his price in a non-keeper, I guess I won't be owning him.

Matt Harvey (7.04, 4.03) - What can we expect from Harvey this year? To be honest, I have no clue. Usually, pitchers coming back from Tommy John surgery need some time to return to form, particularly in the control department, so I'd rather not invest heavily in him for 2015. The LABR draft price is reasonable since there's a realistic chance that he can outperform 7th round value. The NFBC price? No thanks. There's simply no profit to be made.

Tyson Ross (9.13, 6.15) - Pitching exclusively as a starter for the first time in his career, Ross delivered a career-best season last year. Like Ventura, his walk rate was on the high side (3.3 BB/9), but the 27-year-old righty remains an attractive draft day option thanks to an excellent strikeout rate, a favorable home ballpark (1.88 ERA at home last season) and a much improved supporting lineup. I'd be comfortable with Ross as my SP2 in a 15-team mixed league, so 9th round is fine. But 6th round? That's pushing it.

Jeff Samardzija (7.09, 5.01) - The fact that Samardzija is moving to a hitter-friendly park combined with the fact that he has yet to enjoy back-to-back elite level seasons would surely keep his draft day price in the mid-tier SP2 range. Or so I thought. Again, the LABR draft spot seems about right while the NFBC spot seems aggressive. What else is new?

Zack Wheeler (12.03, 9.10) - A popular breakout candidate for 2015, Wheeler certainly carries plenty of upside, but he will need to significantly improve his control (3.8 BB/9) to realize his full potential. I'd be willing to take a chance on him as my SP3 but you won't find me drafting three starting pitchers within the first nine rounds.

So, what's the lesson learned here? Sometimes, it makes a lot of sense to zig when everyone else zags. In the case of this NFBC draft, that would mean assembling an elite hitting core while my league mates grab starting pitcher after starting pitcher. But there comes a time when you have to start playing along to avoid being completely shut out from all of the pitchers on your target list, even if you're the type who prefers to wait on starting pitching.

My turn to pick again. Back to work.  

Last Updated on Sunday, 22 February 2015 00:56
 
There's Something Happening Here PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 15 February 2015 00:00

 The first thing I do when studying the results of any industry draft, in preparation for my own drafts, is to see if there is any sort of big picture theme. Many times, there isn't. But sometimes, there is. This past Tuesday night, 15 prominent fantasy baseball aficionados, including our very own Todd Zola, gathered online for the Mixed LABR, a 29-round (six bench) snake draft. So, what was the big picture theme of Mixed LABR? Actually, it's a theme that I have noticed throughout the mock draft season as one that I have rarely followed but a theme that I am thinking about incorporating more into my draft day approach. On numerous occasions, these owners chose youth and upside over experience and track record. Let's take a look at some notable examples. For the sake of easier comparison, I am grouping these players by position.

Billy Hamilton (Round 2, Pick 5) and Starling Marte (Round 2, Pick 7) drafted ahead of Jacoby Ellsbury (Round 2, Pick 12)

Hamilton will always be a threat to lead the Majors in steals while the 26-year-old Marte is coming off back-to-back seasons of at least 12 home runs, 30 swipes and a .280 AVG. Still, I'm having a tough time understanding this one. Hamilton has plenty of work to do in the plate discipline department while Marte was outproduced by Ellsbury last season in three of the five standard hitting categories, edging him in the other two (AVG and Runs). Ellsbury is a career .293 hitter and the Yankee offense should be a lot better this year, which will help Jacoby's runs total. Don't be surprised if he tops Marte in all five categories in 2015.

Jason Heyward (Round 5, Pick 6), Christian Yelich (Round 5, Pick 8) and Kole Calhoun (Round 5, Pick 13) drafted ahead of Matt Holliday (Round 5, Pick 14)

Matt Holliday is kind of boring, so I don't have a huge problem with this. But really, what have Heyward, Yelich and Calhoun done to deserve being picked ahead of a guy who has averaged 24 homers and 93 RBI per year to go along with a combined .295 batting average over the past five seasons? If healthy (no sure thing, of course), Holliday will likely top every member of the younger trio in three of the five hitting categories. That said, Heyward, Yelich and Calhoun will be fun players to own this season.

Carlos Carrasco (Round 6, Pick 11) drafted ahead of James Shields (Round 7, Pick 7) and Jeff Samardzija (Round 7, Pick 9)

Carrasco is beginning to look like one of those players who goes from sleeper to overvalued simply because he is receiving so much attention. Don't get me wrong, I'm high on the Indians righty for 2015, but this high? Not quite. Shields and Samardzija might not be fantasy aces, but both are fine choices to fill a #2 SP slot in a 12-team mixed league, especially with Shields now in San Diego. Carrasco's reign as a high-end big league starter is less than a year old. Spending a top-90 pick on him seems a bit aggressive.

Kris Bryant (Round 10, Pick 4) drafted ahead of Aramis Ramirez (Round 12, Pick 8)

Despite my generally conservative drafting plan, I'm fully on board here. Bryant might not even open the season with the big club, and his strikeout total in the Minors last year was rather high. But it's impossible to ignore 43 homers and 110 RBI in 138 games, particularly with power numbers down throughout baseball. Ramirez can still hit, but he turns 37 in June and is always hurt. Maybe if he was a DH on an AL team, I'd be more optimistic.

Danny Salazar (Round 15, Pick 4), Garrett Richards (Round 15, Pick 5) and Mike Fiers (Round 15, Pick 12) drafted ahead of Jered Weaver (Round 16, Pick 1) and Justin Verlander (Round 16, Pick 5)

Like his teammate, Carlos Carrasco, Salazar is a candidate to go from sleeper to overvalued, but he's a big time talent. I wouldn't at all hesitate to grab him in the 15th round of a 15-team mixed league. The latest word on Richards is that he could be back in action as early as April. Whether or not he can recapture the elite form he showed in 2014 remains to be seen. Fiers was outstanding last season, but the sample size was only 71 2/3 innings, including ten starts. Weaver and Verlander are excellent values in the 16th round, and I haven't given up on either. This is a toss-up, but I'd slightly prefer the two veterans.

Jedd Gyorko (Round 12, Pick 11) drafted ahead of Howie Kendrick (Round 12, Pick 12)

Kendrick has gone before Gyorko in the vast majority of drafts I've seen (both real and mock). But I am a believer in Gyorko this year as a sneaky MI value pick, given his 20-plus home run potential and the fact that a bout of plantar fasciitus was partly to blame for his disastrous 2014 campaign. Kendrick is the less exciting option but he's less likely to disappoint and does a little of everything. Ultimately, I'd lean towards Kendrick, though Gyorko is a perfectly acceptable choice for owners in need of more power.

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 February 2015 00:21
 
Risk Management PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 01 February 2015 00:00
In many ways, a post-draft fantasy baseball roster is a reflection of the personality of its owner. You have the “all or nothing” owner, the guy who doesn’t see any difference between finishing in second place and finishing in last place. His only objective is to win the league, and if that means taking on multiple high risk/high reward players in order to gain that edge, so be it. Then you have the more conservative owner who simply wants to finish as high in the standings as possible, a goal that tends to result in a roster of safe investments. He might not win the league, but chances are he will still be in contention late in the season. Maybe he will finish in fifth place, but that’s fine. Last place is not an option. I’m closer to the latter type, though I’m thinking that starting to move slightly towards the other direction might do me some good.

Even in mock drafts, I make a conscious effort not to “reach” for players, but mock drafts, particularly industry mock drafts, which are used by many as a sort of testing ground for different strategies, tend to be full of these surprising selections. But even though some of the picks might surprise me at first, there’s also something to be said about targeting a certain player, attaching your own value to him and drafting him at that price, regardless of what others may think. After all, there’s nothing worse than passing on a player who you really want just because you are sure he will last until your next turn only to watch him get scooped up by someone else.

Every year beginning in early-January, I organize and oversee a full 23-round industry slow mock draft for MLB.com, along the way posting the pick-by-pick results in addition to commentary on the Fantasy 411 blog. So, with the draft roughly halfway complete, let’s take a look at a handful of players, all drafted within the first three rounds and by coincidence all outfielders, who will no doubt be popular choices among the risk-embracing owners. Note that I placed a heavy importance in draft position when choosing these players, so by no means will I be completely avoiding all of them. Rather, I’d be hesitant to draft them at these prices.

Michael Brantley (Round 2, Pick 9) – If Brantley can duplicate last season’s .327-20-97-94-23 stat line, this would be a steal. But what if he can’t? Since 2014 was by far his best season to date and his counting stats dropped significantly in the second half, I’m not so sure I’d be willing to spend a top-25 pick to find out.

Ryan Braun (Round 2, Pick 11) – Last year at this time, Braun was one of the more debated early-round picks. Nothing has changed since. All in all, 2014 was a disappointing season, but perhaps the thumb injury was mostly to blame. Following an off-season procedure, Braun says his thumb is back to 100 percent. We shall see. His production can range anywhere from top-5 value to last year’s line, which was decent but nowhere near that of a top-25 player.

Yasiel Puig (Round 2, Pick 12) – Puig followed up an outstanding rookie season with a solid sophomore campaign. Although he isn’t exactly a sure thing to improve upon last year’s .296-16-69-92-11 line, the 24-year-old carries first-round upside. My prediction is that this pick will look better and better as the season goes along.

Bryce Harper (Round 3, Pick 9) – My next prediction is that among this group, Harper will either bring back the biggest profit or the biggest loss. I know, I’m really going out on a limb here. An injury-free season is a must, but even with a guarantee of no trips to the DL, I don’t know if I have it in me to draft Harper at this spot. Regardless, he won’t be cheap. Maybe the smart thing to do is pass on him for one more year, hope that he underachieves again and then draft him in 2016 at what could finally be a discount. I’m leaning in that direction.

Carlos Gonzalez (Round 3, Pick 12) – Look, we all know what Car-Go can do when healthy. The only problem is that he’s never healthy. Gonzalez appeared in a career-low 70 games last season and has averaged 111 games played over the past four seasons. And that’s even after rounding up from 110.5! At 36th overall, I’d rather let him be someone else’s problem. Hunter Pence was taken four picks later. Give me him instead.

Last Updated on Sunday, 01 February 2015 01:42
 
Early Returns PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 18 January 2015 00:00

As much as I enjoy participating in all different types of fantasy baseball drafts, the days immediately following the drafts are rough, especially industry drafts. In addition to second-guessing myself on some of my picks, I cannot help but search the Internet for every draft review I can find. And, with each draft review comes the possibility that someone else will be second-guessing my picks as well, which makes things even worse. Industry owners simply cannot be overly sensitive to criticism. Unfortunately, this is something I still need to work on. And, for this reason, I always try to avoid being too harsh in my reviews of other industry drafts. After all, these guys know their stuff, and I’m sure there was a well-researched explanation for every one of their picks.

This past Thursday night, representatives from 13 different prominent fantasy sites (Lawr and Todd represented Mastersball) convened in Las Vegas for the annual Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) draft, a 13-team mixed league snake draft that uses the standard 5x5 categories with a 29-man roster (6 bench). Studying the FSTA draft results is always educational since it is usually the earliest non-keeper industry draft of the season, so it’s nice to finally have non-mock draft data to sift through.

Anyway, here are some of the picks that surprised me.

DRAFTED EARLIER THAN EXPECTED

Anthony Rizzo (Round 1, Pick 7) – I’m very high on Rizzo this year. With power becoming harder and harder to find these days, how can you not be high on him? There’s legitimate 40-home run potential here to go along with a solid batting average. This could very well work out for my Mastersball mates, but I wonder if they could have taken him in Round 2. Drafting the Cubs first sacker ahead of players like Carlos Gomez, Adam Jones, Jose Bautista and even Miguel Cabrera (despite the health concerns) is a rather bold move. heyward_jason

Jason Heyward (Round 4, Pick 3) – Yes, he’s still only 25, but what has Heyward done at the big league level to warrant this high of a pick? Through five seasons, he sports a career .262 batting average and has reached the 20-home run mark just once. Maybe the change of scenery will do him some good, but Heyward is coming off a rather uninspiring 2014 campaign and will need to at least match his career-best season stat line of .269-27-82-93-21 to earn back this price. I wouldn’t bank on it.

Mookie Betts (Round 7, Pick 6) – A quick glance at the draft results reveals that speed was at a premium, and perhaps no other selection illustrates this more than Betts, who swiped 33 bags in 99 minor league contests last season and stole another seven bases in 52 games for the Red Sox. But Betts was more than a one-category contributor for Boston, as he also launched five home runs and batted .291. That said, with the Red Sox Opening Day outfield projected to include Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Rusney Castillo, Betts is hardly guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster to start the season. Brett Gardner, Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Holliday are just a few of the quality outfielders that were taken after Betts.

DRAFTED LATER THAN EXPECTED

Jacoby Ellsbury (Round 3, Pick 10) – I’m still not sure if I will actively target Ellsbury this year, but what I do know for sure is that if he’s still on the board at Pick #36, I would not hesitate to draft him. The Yankee offense was absolutely dreadful last season, but a healthy Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira (healthy at least for now) should make a significant difference. Don’t be surprised if Jacoby bounces back with a .290 AVG, 20 HR, 40 SB, 90 R campaign, a stat line worthy of a top-15 pick.

Jason Kipnis (Round 5, Pick 13) – Last year at this time, Kipnis was a no doubt top-25 guy, and I even remember reviewing NFBC draft results and seeing his name in the top-10. But after a disappointing and injury-marred 2014 season, this is what happens. I still believe that a 20 HR/30 SB season is in his immediate future and I’m willing to give him a mulligan for last year. There’s no way he should fall outside of the top-50.

Desmond Jennings (Round 15, Pick 11) – Here I go with Jennings again! After vowing to never again own him, the fact that he lasted until Pick #193 in this draft has me reconsidering this. It would be a real shame if Jennings finally breaks out right after I cut ties with him. Maybe I’ll give him another chance. Maybe I’ll draft him in one of my leagues.

Or maybe more than one.

CLICK HERE for the complete FSTA draft results.

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 January 2015 09:37
 
To Draft or Not to Draft? PDF Print E-mail
Diary of a Fantasy Madman
Written by Zach Steinhorn   
Sunday, 11 January 2015 00:00
When it comes to fantasy baseball draft preparation, I tend to wait until early-February to kick things into high gear. But usually, I will have already made up my mind on more than half of the player pool before the high gear period begins, the most important factor being risk versus reward. For these players, no amount of additional research will be necessary. I either like him or I don’t. I will either target him or I won’t.

Then there are the players that require further research and further thought. I wouldn’t mind drafting them at the right price, but I do have some reservations. So, with the 2015 high gear draft preparation phase fast approaching, here are some of the guys who reside in this group.

Jacoby Ellsbury – The 16 homers and 39 steals were nice. The .271 AVG and 71 runs scored were not. On the whole, owners who invested a late-first round pick in the speedy outfielder last year came away disappointed, but Ellsbury is still a career .293 hitter, so a batting average improvement is likely. I’m also expecting a rebound in the runs department, as Ellsbury spent most of last season hitting in the No. 3 spot. With both Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira back in action, Jacoby figures to move up to one of the top two spots to open 2015. Plus, the Yankee offense cannot possibly be as anemic as it was last season, right? That said, Ellsbury won’t come at a discount. He will still cost a top-15 pick. He could be worth it, but at that stage of the draft, I’ll probably be looking elsewhere.

Matt Kemp – On one hand, Kemp is coming off a strong bounce back season in which he finally stayed healthy, playing 150 games after logging a combined 179 games from 2012-2013. Also in his favor is that he closed out the year in MVP form, batting .309 with 17 homers and 54 RBI in the second half. But he’s no longer an asset in the stolen base department, and it remains to be seen how his other numbers will translate to Petco Park. The Padres lineup is vastly improved, but it isn’t quite at the same level as the Dodgers. If Kemp is still available outside of the top-25, I might just take a chance, but I doubt that will be the case.

Yasiel Puig – First, Puig deserves a ton of credit for opening his big league career with two straight highly productive seasons, and at 24 years of age, he should only get better. The only issue I have with him, however, is that based on early mock drafts, his consensus price has been mid to late second round in a 15-team mixed league, a price that I consider to be too heavily inflated by upside. I could change my mind about this in the coming months, as the upside is significant. But for now, I’m hesitant to go all out for Yasiel.

Freddie Freeman – I was so high on Freeman last year that I owned him in three of my five leagues. While 2014 was far from a disaster for the Braves first sacker, I did expect more than 18 homers and way more than 78 RBI. I always believed that there was a .300-30-100 season in Freeman’s future, but I’m no longer so sure. Regardless, I do think he will be better in 2015, and I wouldn’t hesitate to again call his name should I miss out on the top-tier first basemen. But he’s no longer a must-have.

Justin Upton – Another longtime favorite of mine, Upton has fallen short of reaching the superstar status that some predicted, but there’s nothing wrong with being a consistent top-10 fantasy outfielder. The bad news is that Upton comes with the same Petco Park related question marks as Kemp. On the bright side, it’s not like Turner Field is known as a hitter-friendly park, and 18 of Upton’s 29 home runs last season came in Atlanta. Oh, and if you’re a believer in the contract year factor, there’s that to consider. Justin will probably find himself on at least one of my 2015 squads, but my enthusiasm will be more tempered than in years past.

Last Updated on Sunday, 11 January 2015 18:23
 
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